If you go to any chronic pain community on social media, Internet forums, or elsewhere, you’ll quickly find patients — who’re often under-treated, giving them good reason to be upset — who blame the drug-seeking habits of many thousands of opportunistic black market entrepreneurs and irreverent recreational drug users for causing modern American pain management to be where it stands now.
Even though I’ve never been doctor-shopping, or purposely visiting physicians and other prescribers with the intention of being prescribed one or more pre-desired drugs, we “addicts” — at least that’s what we’re often called by angry chronic pain patients and their advocates — I am sometimes still blamed for contributing to the opioid epidemic. And, even if I’m not directly blamed for doing such, I often feel like I’m being blamed for that thanks to the quite-often-angry attitudes and firey rhetoric of these deservedly-mad chronic pain sufferers.
What’s With the Finger-Pointing?
I won’t break them down, but there are several reasons as to why at least some members of web-based chronic pain patient advocacy groups actively place blame on us. It makes them feel better. They might feel like, since they’ve got an inherently-evil, dirty, negligent character in “dirty junkies” or “drug addicts” — I use quotations because they’re jam-packed with a lot of stigma and I try to avoid using them where appropriate (and avoiding their use is so very often appropriate — they have a better chance of getting justice in the form of pain management treatment that truly dumbs their symptoms down to a universally-manageable level… or, at least that’s how it seems like many of them think.
I think most chronic pain patients and other non-patient advocates know that blaming selfish, ruthless, objectively-bad “dopeheads” won’t get them anywhere. But maybe not.
Why Don’t Advocacy Effort Leaders Make Way for Change?
No cause or community wants to become known as salty, bitter, or toxic. At least not any advocacy group, that’s for sure.
While, of course, changing the collective behavior of an entire community member by member is difficult — and only possible to a certain degree, as some members won’t be willing to play ball — I still think it’s worthwhile to weed out this addict-blaming behavior from the crowd.
Now, as Drug User Advocates, Let’s Think About the Flip Side
I haven’t seen much conversion among the drug user advocacy, drug policy reform, harm reduction, and otherwise-helping-drug-involved-people crowd — I’ll call this “drug stuff,” for lack of a better wording — and the chronic pain patient cohort.
Where would these groups overlap, anyway?
Chronic pain patient advocates — and, surely, there’s a better name for this group than “chronic pain patient advocates”; this phrasing, although accurate, is fairly clunky — generally want to roll back the relatively-recently-implemented guidelines that have extensively limited opioid prescribing.
We, too, as “drug stuff” advocates, want access to a safe drug supply. Both of these — expanding opioid prescribing and opening up access to pharmaceutical-quality, reliably-dosed, otherwise-illicit drugs — involve expanding opioid access in a medical capacity. Although our goals are different, we ultimately want roughly the same outcome, give or take a few shades of variance.
Something Else We Both Want
It’s safe to say that most members of both groups want greater individual liberties. Although this is something virtually everybody supports, I think our — we (a) “drug stuff” supporters and (b) chronic pain patient advocates — desires are far different from most people’s ideas of “civil liberties.”
Lower property taxes is one of the most common requests from people who request expanded civil liberties. Here are some other common demands:
- Taking away the often-viewed-as-unfair amount of power that law enforcement has to search and seize assets — police didn’t have this ability whenever the Founding Fathers formed the United States.
- Blocking government agencies from conducting surveillance on innocent citizens.
- Abolishing the cash bail system, thereby restoring low-income people’s rights to fairly develop a legal defense strategy. In modern practice, low-income defendants often plead guilty to crimes even if they know they’re not guilty because they’re so scared to fight the system.
- Giving felons, parolees, and incarcerated people back their ability to vote and possess guns.
- Severely limiting the ability of law enforcement agencies to use physical, corporal, sometimes-deadly.
We differ from most in that we’re not vying for less government involvement in general. Rather, at least in this category, we want better access to safe, legal, regulated, standardized drugs — particularly opioids.
And Another Thing
I think both of our sides can agree that we don’t like urine drug screens. Although medical providers — and especially specialized pain management physicians — can’t force patients to submit urine samples, in practice, they do, in fact, effectively force patients to put up with drug screens.
Refusing drug screens, as we all know, regularly results in getting fired from a pain management program.
Illicit drug users like me don’t like drug screens. Although, yes, I recognize utility in drug screens because they can prevent heavy machinery operators from potentially harmful situations. Here’s the big issue, though — cannabinoids, for example, can stay in our systems for well over a week, if not a month; how can an employer reliably infer that an employee is under the influence of psychoactive drugs at the time of screening if they test positive for long-lingering cannabinoids or drugs with long half-lives like buprenorphine or methadone?
As we all know, although we can’t really have drug screens forced upon us unless we’re on probation or parole or incarcerated. However, just as in the doctor’s office example above, oftentimes, entities that ask for drug screens are typically able to weasel people into taking them. It’s not just doctors’ offices.
People who work for state and federal departments of transportation are usually required to remain abstinent from drug use at all times, even in their personal lives. Just like the heavy machinery operator can be fired for “dropping dirty,” as we often call it, even if they aren’t actually high at the time of testing, other transportation industry workers are subject to similar treatment.
Such policies allow employers to extensively control employees’ lives — oftentimes, it’s not like people can just up and leave one day from their jobs; as such, people who are disproportionately affected by such invasive policies often feel trapped… it’s just not very cash money.
Not cash money at all.
Here’s one caveat: physicians may be able to prevent serious adverse drug reactions and even death by administering drug screens. For example, if a pain management doctor’s patient tests positive for a benzodiazepine, he may warn the patient to cease benzodiazepine use, require them to promptly report for random drug tests at any time, or even outright fire the patient, thus potentially cutting them off from the misused opioid analgesics that could end up taking their lives.
The same caveat holds true for protecting workers from the threat of heavy machinery mishaps. I’m sure there are several other caveats, too.
How Can We Overlap Our Two Causes?
Unfortunately, I don’t know, exactly, how we can get the show on the road.
If you regularly use social media or a web-based message board and are a “drug stuff” advocate, consider engaging with chronic pain patient advocacy circles to potentially turn them on to the idea that we could get more done by joining forces. Now, I will say this: In general, using social media to change other people’s minds is silly. This is not, at all, “advocacy.”
It might feel like advocacy, but it sure as hell ain’t. With that being said, I’m not otherwise aware of how to turn these people (pain patient advocates) on to the potential of merging at least some of our advocacy efforts.
Time to Wrap It Up
I usually don’t like writing about things unless I have concrete, do-able recommendations, strategies, or tweaks to share. This is one of those times where I’m shit outta ideas — but, since this’ll need to be a collaborative effort throughout the “drug stuff” and the chronic pain patient advocacy communities, anyway, you should share your ideas with me, directly, or either of these communities at large.